WASHINGTON, October 15, 2011—For Washington, the 2011 baseball season is a wrap. And a wild and crazy season it was. All right, Washington did not quite end with the .500 winning season it had courted.
A few times it looked like Washington could possibly pull it off. But, alas—one game, one home run, thinly sliced the difference between a winning season and a non-winning season with the precision of a TV chef with a Ginsu knife.
Back on May 3, the Nats played their 1,000th game since baseball’s 2005 return to the capital. On that day, the Nationals hit that salient .500 marker. After that, a loss to the Phillies sent the Nationals back below .500. Then, May 12, Washington topped the Braves to return to .500. It was a virtual seesaw, “As I See-Saw It,” (plug for my column name).
Nip and Tuck. Touch and Go. Now you see it, now you don’t. Then that humiliating slide (sliding boards are usually next to seesaws), and that percentage dropped to .429, .423, and at the end of May, .415. Then in mid-June, an impressive winning streak brought the ball club back from the nether region.
Coming down toward the finish line, it looked like…could it be? A winning season? Not this year.
I’ve heard some D.C.-ites ask why this .500 marker is so important. This shows they don’t know what it represents: of course, it’s the difference between a winning season and a losing season. For Washington, D.C., however, it holds an even greater significance.
You see, a Washington major-league baseball club has not logged a winning season since…1969. That’s right. And, yes, that’s 42 years!
I grant you, this 42-year stat is not as bad as it might at first blush appear. (When have you read the word “blush” in a sports column before?) After all, the poor capital city went 33 of those years without even being able to “root, root, root for the home team.” It had no home team!
Historically, during its first decade of existence from the 1901 inception of the American League, the team ended up in the bottom berth four times. This explains why sports editor Charles Dryden of the San Francisco Chronicle coined one of baseball writers’ most enduring puns. Transferring the eulogy of Revolutionary War hero, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, from Washington the man to Washington the ball club, Dryden wrote: “Washington—first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” Thus the term “cellar-dwellers” was threaded into the fabric of Washington club like the stitching on a baseball.
Washington would have some good seasons—even going on to win three pennants: in1924, 1925 and 1933. That 1924 pennant, of course, produced Washington’s first (and only) World Series championship in a seventh-game twelfth-inning win which is still considered by the experts to be among the top-ten greatest World Series contests ever played.
Jumping over many years and baseball seasons, some not so good and some awful, we land in February of 1969. A surprising event occurs: Washington gets a new manager. The long, tall shadow of Boston’s legendary Ted Williams falls across the city’s baseball stadium. And
“Teddy Baseball” prods the capital city ball club into the upper division with a better than .500 finish [86-76]. A winning season! For this outstanding achievement, the Sportswriters of America voted Ted Williams Manager of the Year of 1969.
Just two years after that fine showing, however, the Senators ball club was rustled off to the great Out West like a herd of Longhorns to become the Texas Rangers. Now Washington, for the first time in the century, was without a major-league baseball team.
But by no “taxation” of the imagination would Washington be “without representation” in baseball for 33 years. And yet, that was the case.
This is why fans with a knowledge of Washington baseball history found it such a tantalizing prospect this season when the Washington Nationals of the National League flirted with the possibility of ending up with a .500 winning season.
Final Result: The Washington Nations finish the 2011 baseball season with .497 [80-81] percentage. Could it be any closer? It’s as close to a winning season as Washington baseball has ended up in … well, we’ve already gone around that circle.
Vance Garnett is a frequently published freelance writer with an eye, and memory, and love for all things Washington.
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